Tuesday, 26 May 2009

New York City (Saturday, 23/5)

Saturday was a day I decided to do about half of the major time-consuming activities on my list. As a matter of fact, that was a good decision; the weather held up and I got everything done I wanted to, but time slipped by and the last item, whilst unchanging, had its environment rather changed to something that I'm told was even better.

So, I set off in the morning to walk through Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On the way to the art gallery, I had to stop to allow a marathon to go past... a marathon that included about 20 Metropolitan Police Officers. In at least partial uniform. Running around Central Park, for some cause or other (it was exceedingly hard to tell what cause, I must say!). If that wasn't bad enough, one of them had their belt on... with truncheon and handcuffs. If 3,000-odd miles isn't off their beat, I'm not sure what is, though it's undeniable that Gotham is indeed a metropolis.

So, I headed off to the Metropolitan Museum. This ended up being where I spent the bulk of the day (I intended to spend half a day, and that just did not happen really... for reasons that will become clear.) Going in, I had one clear idea in mind: Spend a while looking at the Greek vases, then look at everything else. Well, I spent about 2 hours looking at a sample of their Greek vase collection, what was on the ground floor - going into detailed and extensive notes, that I won't bore you with, on about 12 of the items on display, with many pictures (121 of Greek vases and details. That's 12 vases) to illustrate the notes. I then went upstairs... and saw the study rooms. Room upon room of classical artifacts... most of which were Greek vases. This time they didn't have any information attached, so I didn't take notes on those - nor did I take all that many pictures. At this point hunger struck and I headed out for lunch, picking up a pretzel from one of the many sellers inhabiting the space in front of the neoclassical Met building (very reminiscent of the BM, really!).

Back inside, I re-entered the classical exhibits with a view rather wider than just the vases; they had some fantastic sculpture, and the main room exhibiting the statuery was nicely classical - a roofed-over imitation of a Roman atrium, accurate in almost every detail. The main thing that exhibition convinced me of was that I need to learn as much about classical statues as I know about Greek vases - because I had less knowledge, the marble was a lot less interesting than the terracotta. Knowledge is power, and also enjoyment, apparently.

From there I found my way through the very confusing museum to the Armoury section, because I decided that that was one of the few sections of the museum I really wanted to see - that and the section above it, the musical instruments. The Met's a bit of a maze to navigate, but I got there eventually (through a really ugly area on late medieval decorations... not a period I like, I must admit); once I arrived in the armoury, there was some beautiful work on display, including some armour in false-classical styles and weaponry that looked more like artfully decorated clubs than guns. Their display of Eastern styles of armour was very well done, and thoroughly impressed me.

Then I headed upstairs to their musical instruments display. That spanned all the inhabited continents of the world minus Australasia, with a range of instruments from grand pianos and organs to lutes and pipes. There were some incredibly beautiful instruments, and the range of styles over the generations and the variety of forms for one kind of instrument producing one set of notes was astounding; some makers of instruments have been very creative and inventive, albeit possibly a tad insane about their designs; three-necked lutes, bodyless violins (tuned the same as a normal violin in range), clarinets in unusual form (such as that pictured with this paragraph)... all sorts of odds and sods were on display.

After that, I had to go back down to get out - and rather than go through the medieval ugliness again, I went through the Egyptian section, and was floored by the main exhibition space, which holds a reconstruction of the Temple of Dendur. A large sandstone thing, it takes up most of the wing of the museum to display, and was surrounded by various accoutrements like statues of the gods and goddesses, and a full-blown moat in the middle of the museum - shallow, but flowing water all the same. A very impressive sight with the great glass wall letting in the full sunlight across the whole scene.

From the museum, I walked up another 20 blocks and went to visit the Cathedral of St John the Divine. Uncompleted since its first conception in the early 20th century, it's apparently the biggest gothic-style cathedral in the world regardless, and is absolutely stunningly beautiful; large and airy, the stained glass windows cast no single colour over the church, giving it the feel of being a very open space. Furthering this was the height of the building; it was very atmospherically light, had a lot of space, except in the crossing of the four arms - which was of a different, and darker, stone (also used for the North and South arms of the Church) which gave it a rather more oppressive atmosphere, alleviated somewhat by the focusing of the light from the stained glass of the East end of the church on the central altar and cross. Altogether a most beautiful church, though not the most beautiful that I saw in the city.

So, after this I took the subway back to my hotel to put my feet up briefly (40 blocks plus a museum is a lot of walking!) before heading out for pizza. Apparently New York pizza is something special; having sampled it, I have to say I agree - and Ray's is quoted as the best place to get such pizza. Well, a slice from Ray's is a meal itself, and pretty cheap, whilst also being absolutely delicious; great food - and helpfully, in a direct line from my hostel to the Empire State Building, the destination of the evening.

So, I wanted to get up there for dusk. I got there an hour or so before sundown. I got to the 86th floor... about an hour or so after. Apparently, it's an even better sight at night than during the day (so experts have told me) which means that entirely unintentionally I gave myself a far better viewing of the NYC skyline; to which all I can say is lucky me. Actually, it's absolutely true - that is a stunning skyline, absolutely amazing at night. Even a fear of heights (blaring at me as I stood all that distance above the ground) didn't stop me enjoying being up there, and seeing the Chrysler (for instance) from above - an odd experience, to say the least. I walked the circuit of the outside twice and looked out over the river and bay, and the city itself, and it's really something else - such a varying height of skyline, and such a divided city (by the rivers, that is). Really rather odd. I leave you with just one image from the top of the skyscraper, taken by a girl whose picture I had taken for her just moments before; the darkness does a decent job, I hope, of hiding my absolute terror.

New York City (Friday, 22/5)

So, on Friday I went to New York City for a four-day weekend (taking Friday off school, and Monday was Memorial Day, meaning I didn't have to take that off school as it's a Federal holiday. It also influenced what I did and what happened Monday, as we shall see).

A 3-and-a-half hour busride is all it takes to get from the District to the City, and that's what I did; I hopped off the bus and onto the subway, to check in to my hostel accommodation (I slept most of the busride, unintentionally...) which was almost literally on Central Park. The West Side YMCA's pretty comfortable, and secure; so, dumping my bags, I headed into the park itself - the "greatest urban park in the world", according to the signs. So I took a long wander up and down Central Park before parking myself on a rock to sit and read for an hour or so til sundown, and watch the life passing by. A couple of highlights of Central Park, then... Let's start with the turtles. Yes, turtles, cohabiting a lake with rowing boats and rowers. Interesting thought, no? Well it's a pretty interesting sight too, to be honest; especially when the large one - size of my torso, or so - tried to eat a bright yellow baseball bat extended towards it, coming fully out of its shell in order to try and do so.

Wandering around Central Park there were also other moments where I just had to stop and look. Bearing in mind this was the hot afternoon sun, I was very impressed by the dancers; there's a stage in Central Park which live performances happen on, and evidently I just missed one - but the sound equipment was still set up and an album was being played; all sorts of people just came out and danced - some in formal dress, presumably on their way back from the office, and others in what seemed to be running kit; a crowd gathered to watch and a space cleared between songs, but each time a new song came on the space filled organically, everyone dancing again, from the goths to the bankers. Amazing sight, a real mix of the sort that America prides itself on.

Finally, my last Central Park highlight of the day was the playground down at the south end of the park. Its the sort of playpark that every kid wishes they had, and backs straight onto a large set of rocks in the park (and yes, does have as rule one: "No adults unless accompanied by a child"); there's a nice entrance/exit onto the large rock (this being the rock I was sitting and reading on, overlooking the playground); there were fountains with button-activated modes, with the buttons easily used by kids; swings; roundabouts; huge climbing frames and similar things; reasonably-sized constructions usable as playhouses; all sorts of awesome things to play with. Really cool, and it was not surprising that the playground was packed even coming up to dusk, which is when I quit the park (buying a pizza-pretzel for dinner on the way out) for my bed.